Sheffield book tracing history of Victorian suburb finally set for big launch event

A group of Sheffield historians are holding a special History is Here event next weekend to celebrate the launch of their latest book.

Friday, 15th October 2021, 4:45 pm

Walkley Historians are holding the event to publicise their latest book, Victorian Walkley: Origins of a Sheffield Suburb.

Published in March 2020, Victorian Walkley missed out on a public launch event due to Covid restrictions and that will finally go ahead on Friday, October 22 at 7pm in Walkley Community Centre on Fir Street.

The event, the first in a new series of Walkley Historians’ popular History is Here evenings, will feature short talks and exhibits about different aspects of Walkley’s Victorian history, travelling back in time to the very start of the suburb in Victorian times.

This mural of Walkley history painted by artist Nicole White was part of the Walkley Historians' latest project

Victorian Sheffield has been a three-year labour of love for members of Walkley Historians. They have pored over old maps, looked into archives, traced historic photographs and scoured Victorian newspapers to piece together the early history of Walkley.

The book is the first time this important part of Walkley’s history has been published in one place. Copies are available to buy from Beeches of Walkley and Walkley Library.

Walkley rapidly changed from quiet fields and farms in 1850 to a busy, thriving garden suburb by 1900. Building work was continuous during those 50 years.

Elaine Royston and Sanne Vanderschee start trying to unravel the whodunnit trail mystery as part of Walkley Library Victorian Festival in 2019

As well as thousands of houses lining a network of streets, the suburb featured churches, chapels, schools, shops and pubs.

Why were freeholds key to social change?

The driving force was a new type of society that wanted working families to own their own houses, the group found. Called Freehold Land Societies, they were formed by committees who bought land and issued mortgages for people to buy a freehold housing plot.

Owning the freehold was important because only freeholders could vote at the time. The societies increased the numbers of people who could vote and meant more working-class people became voters, helping to change politics. Walkley put Sheffield at the forefront of these social changes.

A sign on 69 Walkley Road, saying Freedom Hill

The book introduces the Freehold Land Societies and traces the history of a sample of streets and the people who lived there, then it looks at work and play, health, transport, churches, schools and pubs.

The subjects and places included reflect the interests of the historians who have researched and written the book, many of whom have personal connections to the streets, schools and churches that are featured.

The book was funded by Lottery players through the National Lottery Heritage Fund and was part of the Walkley Historians’ 2017-2020 Streets of Walkley project. As well as publishing the book, the group held a Victorian fair, organised storytelling sessions about pubs in pubs, commissioned the South Road mural, mounted a series of temporary exhibitions, ran school activities and created the Walkley History Mystery whodunnit trail, which is available from the library.

Walkley Historians formed in February 2016. They meet on the second Tuesday of each month at 7pm at St Mary’s Community Hall, Walkley. Meetings are open to all and the group members cover a wide range of historical interests between them.

Publicity for the Walkley Historians' History is Here book launch event